So Ed Smith, the man we’ve come to know as Big ‘Ed, is riding into the sunset on his IPL branded golf buggy. Not too many will shed a tear. Apparently some of the players might even be overjoyed.
It seems to me, therefore, that things have come full circle (and not without a hint of irony). The man who was the beneficiary of ECB politics when he was appointed – the right sort of tie, personal friend of Andrew Strauss etc – has now fallen foul of ECB politics.
Ashley Giles, whose somewhat ineffectual demeanour actually hides a ruthless streak, wanted to make his own mark by axing Smith, who he isn’t particularly close to, in a ‘restructuring’ exercise. It’s all slightly comical and oh so ECB.
What did I make of Smith’s tenure? Not much to be frank. I thought he tried to be far too clever for his own good. At first he tried to reinvent the wheel – i.e. prove that he was cleverer than any other selector in the history of Test cricket – by prioritising performance in front of IPL crowds over basic technique.
Smith also thought he’d try to turn team England into Ajax Amsterdam by promoting theories of total cricket – in other words, packing the side with all-rounders (also known as bits and pieces cricketers).
Anyone with a functioning cricketing brain, of course, knows that Test cricket is a game where specialists thrive. Smith has a huge brain but his train of thought frequently seemed to get derailed by hubris. Overthinking things was often his MO.
Were there individual successes under Smith? Not really. Not unless you want to count The World Cup which was mainly the work of Eoin Morgan and his predecessors. Meanwhile, Smith’s Test record was very mixed. The experiment with Jason Roy was foolish. His early selection of Ollie Pope at No.4 was equally nonsensical and a tad irresponsible. Meanwhile, his love of Sam Curran, who he wanted to open the bowling ahead of Stuart Broad in the Caribbean, still seems irrational.
I’d also argue that the alleged big success of Smith’s tenure, the recalled Jos Buttler, hasn’t actually improved the team at all. Buttler averages 33.6 as keeper. The man he replaced, Jonny Bairstow, averaged 37.8 as keeper. This has therefore been a net negative. And remember, Buttler only took the gloves off Bairstow because he wasn’t scoring enough runs to justify his place as a specialist batsman. Although Jos has shown some belated growth in recent times, I think the jury’s still out on this one.
The big question moving forward now is whether the decision to make Smith redundant by abolishing the National Selector job makes sense. Sadly, despite my low opinion of Smith, I think Giles has made a mistake. After all, ultimate responsibility for selection has now been passed to Chris Silverwood – a man who doesn’t have the time to watch any county cricket.
Trevor Bayliss, who had rarely seen any of England’s new recruits play before their first practice, must think that English cricket has gone completely bonkers – which, of course, would be incorrect. The truth is that it’s always been completely bonkers.
England’s head coach is now in the unenviable position of having to rely on the intel of others before selecting England squads. And he can be fired if mistakes are made, even though these mistakes probably won’t be his fault.
The benefit of a National Selector was that his role was purely to watch cricket. It’s a specialist position. And if the players he picks turn out to be as bad as Roy then he gets sacked (eventually).
It seems to me, therefore, that in attempting to “make the lines of accountability much clearer” Giles is actually muddying the waters. Silverwood may turn out to be a terrific coach but an awful judge of a player. And what then? You can’t exactly sack him.
More responsibility will now inevitably fall on the shoulders of James Taylor, who has become the new ‘head scout’ while Mo Bobat, a man supporters know practically nothing about, will provide some input too. We’ve also heard rumours of about an expanded scouting network. We’ll see.
From a personal perspective, however, I always quite liked having a Chairman of Selectors. Some were good (I’m looking at you Geoff Miller), some were mixed (I’m looking at you David Graveney), and some were absolutely nuts (I’m looking at you Ted Dexter). However, when the right people were in place then the system worked well.
Consequently, I don’t really understand Giles’s logic. He’s basically made Chris Silverwood, a pretty inexperienced coach who likes to do nonsensical things like pick five seamers and no spinners in his XIs (which he’s done at least twice), the most powerful supremo in English cricket for some time.
Giles should’ve remembered the tenure of Ray Illingworth before making this move. And let’s not forget that Illingworth had far better cricketing credentials than Silverwood.
Sadly, it never seems to go well when one coach has too much power. English cricket has always worked best with a competent coach working with competent selectors.
What’s more, many critics have often claimed that the England set up is far too cosy. This move will just make things worse. If your face doesn’t fit then you won’t even get named in squads let alone the final XI.
The bottom line is that Ed’s gone. But Giles’s ‘ed may well have gone too.